I love presidential history. So I find it pretty cool that each February, I can carry over some of the passion of Valentine’s Day and add it to Presidents’ Day, when we officially celebrate Abraham Lincoln and George Washington’s birthdays.
To celebrate that third Monday of the second month (Feb. 18 this year), let’s get out the chips and guacamole and play a presidential edition of Trivial Pursuit. Like all of us, these most powerful men on our planet were only immortal until they weren’t. As we all know, health and well-being do matter.
James Garfield became the 20th president after serving nine terms in the U.S. House of Representatives. He was riding high as his term began in March 1881. Sadly, he had only about four months to enjoy leading the U.S. government. That’s because he was shot by a disgruntled man in July and spent the next several weeks fighting to survive. He died in September.
Woodrow Wilson’s term as the 28th president was from 1913 to 1921. However, he was really the commander in chief for only the first six years. He suffered a stroke in 1919 that left him unable to perform his duties. His wife kept his illness quiet and essentially ran the Oval Office in those last two years.
Imagine spending a grueling presidential campaign and winning election, only to serve in that capacity for just over 30 days, the shortest term for a U.S. president. William Henry Harrison lived that reality in 1841. Harrison, the 9th president, caught a cold, and it developed into fatal pneumonia.
In July 1924, while Calvin Coolidge was the 30th president, a heartbreaking moment occurred at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. It was not anything that happened to Coolidge himself, but what happened to his 16-year-old son, Cal Jr. The teen was playing tennis and got a blister on his toe. This quickly led to an infection, and he died within a week.
Coolidge was the leader of 115 million people, but he and the top doctors of the day could do nothing for his child. The use of penicillin, which could have saved the boy, was still about 15 years away.
Probably the president who faced the most obstacles in his life was the 26th one – Teddy Roosevelt. Here are just a few of them. At age 25, when he was a New York legislator, he endured the mental anguish of losing his wife and mother on the same day in 1884 (Valentine’s Day, of all days).
A few years later, he weathered a brutal period of ranching in North Dakota. Later, he and his Rough Riders lived through the rigors of the Spanish American War that broke out in 1898. In 1912, when he was campaigning in Milwaukee to be president for a third term, he survived a gunshot wound from about five feet away and went on to make his speech before seeking medical attention. (He ended up losing the vote to Woodrow Wilson.) In 1919, tropical diseases he contracted during his extensive travels worsened his health, and a blood clot in his lung finally laid him to rest.
I’m a geek about presidential history, and I’m happy to share my knowledge of these U.S. leaders with you.
Take care of yourself, and make it a fantastic February and a healthy, happy Presidents’ Day!
This article of Hail to the Chief is brought to you by that guy with a Feb. 9 birthday, Ron Blake. You can contact him at [email protected].